By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
If you’ve never read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and only seen the movie, you may be missing out.
I certainly was, until DC Comics began adapting Stieg Larsson’s popular thriller into graphic novel form (in two parts). And I still remained shrouded in ignorance of the full impact of the novel after reading TGWTDT Volume 1, which offered little more in the way of information than I gleaned from the movie screen.
Then along came Volume 2. And, boy, did I ever get educated!
Remember when Mikael Blomkvist (the reporter played by Daniel Craig) drops in on Lisbeth Salander (the girl of the title, played by Rooney Mara) and her one-night stand? In the graphic novel (and presumably the original book), she’s no pick-up – she’s Lisbeth’s girlfriend.
Remember when Blomkvist broke up with his edit-slash-girlfriend Erika – temporarily as it turned out – so that he could sleep with Salander with a clear conscience? In the book, both characters are still in relationships when they sleep together, and it doesn’t appear to matter to anyone involved.
That goes double for Blomkvist, who is not only sleeping with Salander while still in a relationship with Erika (who is married to someone else, by the way), but is also having an affair with Cecilia Vanger, niece of Henrik Vanger, who hired Blomkvist to solve the murder mystery. That’s three girls at once, and none of them care that he’s sleeping with the others. Some of them even have tea together.
It’s significant that Salander has a girlfriend in the book, because she dumps Blomkvist to go back to her. She won’t have sex with him any more, she says, “Because I’m not enjoying it. And I miss my girlfriend.” The movie completely flips this interaction, with Blomkvist dumping Salander to go back to his girlfriend, and Salander is shown to be hurt by this.
Not all of the revelations are sex-related, though. In the movie, the truth about serial killer Martin Vanger is revealed to authorities after Salander rescues Blomkvist. But in the book, Salander leaves the wounded Blomkvist at his cabin (“Don’t go!” he whimpers. “Please don’t leave me here!”) to go burn down the killer’s house, including all his videotapes, files and photos. She does this for two reasons. One, she’s under court order not to leave Stockholm, and Vanger’s tapes would reveal her on the Vanger family’s island.
The second reason, though, is very revealing of Salander’s character. She burns the tapes, she says, to keep them from leaking to the Internet as snuff films and pornography. She feels they would victimize the victims a second time, make Vanger a hero in certain sick quarters and “give the next generation of killers materials … ideas … aspirations … goals.”
Blomkvist protests: “These women deserve to be remembered. Their children deserve to know what happened to them.” “Deserve to know what?” Salander counters. “That their mother was raped and ripped apart? No one deserves to know that about their mother.”
And the way artist Leonardo Manco draws the scene suggests there are things about Salander’s past we don’t know – and might not want to.
Instead of revealing Vanger’s guilt, Salander blackmails the Vanger Corporation into compensating all the victims’ families, and donating two million annually to Swedish crisis centers for women and girls. She doesn’t get mad, apparently – she gets even.
It’s easy to guess why the sex stuff was left out. Sweden is much more open about such things than Puritanical America, and the filmmakers probably figured all the bedplay – amusing to Swedes, shocking to Americans -- would be a distraction. And having Salander moping over Blomkvist allows Americans the comfortable fiction that what all women want – no matter their character or history – is to be a suburban housewife to a good (or just good-looking) man.
That’s unfair to Salander, of course. And it obfuscates why she’s such an interesting character. And leaving out how Salander deals with the serial killer’s legacy was a disservice to the material – and the audience. It’s of a piece with Salander’s revenge on her rapist, and how she deals with the corporation that framed Blomkvist.
It demonstrates why she is – in her own weird, damaged, antisocial way – a hero. After all, doesn’t “weird, damaged and antisocial” describe Batman? It’s Lisbeth’s gender that throws us off, but once we poke through our own preconceptions, we realize that she’s the heroic loner who swings in the window to save the day, and it’s Blomkvist who’s the damsel in distress (and sex object). Girl is mostly a standard adventure story, but with a spicy gender reversal that continually confounds our expectations.
So pick up DC’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Volume 2 ($19.99). Find out for yourself why Lisbeth Salander has become one of the most interesting characters in fiction.
Contact Captain Comics at firstname.lastname@example.org.